MONROVIA – The National Elections Commission (NEC) has announced the arrival of ballot papers for the upcoming October 10, 2023, Presidential and General Elections. The papers arrived on Monday, January 25, 2023.
By Henry Karmo and Obediah Johnson
The Chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah, who received the consignment containing the ballot papers, disclosed that they arrived from Ghana on a private plane.
The papers, she noted, are categorized into Presidential, Senatorial, and Representative ballots. According to her, there are three million, three hundred twenty thousand five hundred (3,320,500) Presidential ballots.
For the Senatorial ballots, the NEC Chairperson reported a total of three million, four hundred two thousand one hundred twenty-two (3,402,122), while three million, four hundred three thousand two hundred eight (3,403,208) ballot papers were brought in for the Representatives.
“The ballots are currently in secure storage under the protection of state security. The deployment of ballot papers and other sensitive election materials to the 2,080 polling precincts nationwide will commence in the next few days,” she added.
She also assured Liberians of the Commission’s commitment to ensuring that all parts of the country receive the ballot papers on schedule for the smooth conduct of what she described as free, fair, and democratic elections.
The ballot papers are arriving just two weeks to the elections and political actors have expressed concerns over the timeliness. They contend that the ballot papers and other pre-packed election materials would have to be transported across the country, and unfortunately, the rainy season has worsened the country’s already dilapidated roads, especially in the Southeast.
Jittery over Final Registration Roll
Meanwhile, political actors have been concerned by the NEC’s delay in releasing the Final Registration Roll which they say they need to countercheck and have it corrected before the elections. However, they are dismayed that with just two weeks to the elections, the Elections Commission is yet to release the Final Registration Roll.
The FRR is a list of registered voters who are qualified to vote that is produced following exhibition and decisions on voters’ appeals, claims, and challenges and required changes to the provisional registration roll.
Sections 16.5 of the 2023 Voters’ Regulations calls for the FRR(for each magisterial area) to be made available at that magisterial office for public inspection during normal business hours, while Section 16. 6 mandate the NEC to provide stakeholders with electronic copies of the FRR in a secured form.
Although the regulations do not prescribe a specific timeframe for the publication of the FRR by the Commission, political parties view this delay as a potential breeding ground for electoral fraud and manipulation. They argue that the postponement appears intentional and aimed at preventing them from thoroughly scrutinizing the roll and identifying issues such as voter duplication and irregularities before Election Day.
The opposition Unity Party (UP) has taken a proactive stance by formally requesting the NEC to provide a digital copy of the FRR, aligning with a prior request made during discussions at the Inter-Party Consultative Committee Meeting (IPCC). Additionally, the UP has raised concerns about the sudden relocation of the Magisterial Office in lower Montserrado County, questioning the transparency and fairness of such a move.
The NEC’s failure to meet its commitment to publish the FRR on September 18 prompted UP Montserrado County Campaign Chair Abraham Darius Dillon to lead a peaceful protest at the NEC headquarters in Monrovia. UP Secretary General Amos Tweh expressed frustration over the lack of feedback from the NEC despite repeated follow-ups. Tweh suggested that this delay might validate suspicions of voter card duplication and other irregularities, emphasizing the importance of allowing political parties ample time to review the FRR.
The UP issued a warning that any attempt to subvert the democratic will of the Liberian people through the NEC would be met with strong resistance. They called on all citizens to protect their constitutional rights and remain engaged in the electoral process.
The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) also highlighted the significance of timely access to the FRR for political parties and stakeholders. They stressed that releasing the FRR at the last minute would cast doubt on the credibility of the elections. The CPP urged the NEC to promptly provide the FRR to political parties.
The Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia (EFFL) expressed concerns that the ongoing delay in releasing the FRR could lead to a national crisis. They called on volunteers to serve as poll watchers and urged international partners to take note of the situation. The EFFL emphasized the importance of protecting the will of the Liberian people during elections.
The political leaders of the opposition Liberia National Union (LINU) and Liberian People’s Party (LPP) also expressed concerns about the delay in releasing the FRR, demanding answers from the NEC.
On the other hand, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) downplayed the pressure on the NEC to release the FRR, describing it as a distraction. They expressed confidence in the NEC’s ability to conduct fair and transparent elections and cited a Supreme Court ruling that requires the publication of the FRR 24 hours before the elections.
The NEC, in response, assured stakeholders that efforts were underway to securely format and provide the biometric voter roll. They stated that the printing of the Final Registration Roll had commenced, and the commission’s staff were working diligently to ensure the timely deployment of election materials, especially to areas facing delivery challenges. The NEC also mentioned the availability of a voter check platform for individuals to verify their voting information online in the absence of the FRR.
Overall, the delay in releasing the Final Registration Roll has raised concerns among political parties and citizens about the transparency and credibility of the upcoming elections in Liberia. The issue continues to be a subject of debate and attention both domestically and internationally.